A Scan of Critical World Developments
Climate Feedback vs. Climate Politics
Upon the anniversary of the 2015 Paris climate conference, it is increasingly clear that gradual, non-binding action conflicts with the rapid, binding processes of nature. The findings of a new study in Nature underscore this striking mismatch between political change and climate change. The study, co-authored by 50 scientists from around the world, documents a powerful climate feedback that could bedevil current efforts to combat global warming. The world’s soils serve as a major carbon sink: plants grow, pulling carbon dioxide from the air via photosynthesis, then die and decay, sequestering the carbon in soil formations. However, as warming increases, the microorganisms in these soils increase their rate of respiration and release of carbon dioxide or methane into the air. By 2050, this process could lead to the release of 55 billion tons of carbon—the emissions equivalent of adding another United States. Better management of soils can help, but such feedbacks are difficult to reverse. The planet’s temperature is rising, and the only sound antidote is a rapid decarbonization of the economy. With each year that passes, it becomes more painfully clear that the “watchful waiting” that has characterized the world’s response to the climate threat has been akin to criminal malpractice.